On Friday, “Ask Amy”* advice columnist Amy Dickinson fielded a query from a woman with an ominous pseudonym: “Victim? In Virginia.” (Thanks to commenter CC for the tip).

“Victim?” wanted to know: Was I raped?

Amy responded with a laundry list of victim-blaming cliches—-and one original piece of very bad advice. At column’s end, Amy suggests that the “Victim?” consult another source on the rape question: her rapist.

But before we get to the advice, let’s see why our “Victim?” insists on tacking a question mark at the end of her moniker. Take it away, Victim?:


I recently attended a frat party, got drunk and made some bad decisions. I let a guy take me to “his” room because he promised that he wouldn’t do anything I wasn’t comfortable with. Many times, I clearly said I didn’t want to have sex, and he promised to my face that he wouldn’t.

Then he quickly proceeded to go against what he “promised.” I was shocked, and maybe being intoxicated made my reaction time a bit slow in realizing what was happening. We were soon kicked out of the room by the guy who lived there, who was pretty angry.

I guess my question is, if I wasn’t kicking and fighting him off, is it still rape? I feel like calling it that is a bit extreme, but I haven’t felt the same since it happened. Am I a victim?


Victim?-Blaming Cliche #1: Amy starts off the column with the hope that Victim?’s story will be held up as an example . . . of how stupid she was!

DEAR VICTIM?: First of all, thank you. I hope your letter will be posted on college bulletin boards everywhere.

Were you a victim? Yes.

First, you were a victim of your own awful judgment.

Don’t Listen to Her: Amy is gearing up to dole out some super, super bad advice. But she’s already convinced this column is a keeper.


Victim?-Blaming Cliche #2: Some think that a “rapist” “rapes” you; Amy prefers to frame the dynamic as the victim “engaging” in “unwanted sexual conduct.”

Getting drunk at a frat house is a hazardous choice for anyone to make because of the risk (some might say a likelihood) that you will engage in unwise or unwanted sexual contact.

Don’t Listen to Her: By her own admission, “Victim?” already thinks that she made some bad decisions. She is so totally aware of all of the terrible choices she has made that she lists them all out for everyone to criticize—-she attended a frat party, got drunk, went to his room, believed him, couldn’t fight back—-and then plainly admits that her actions were “bad decisions”! Amy doesn’t need to help this woman finally realize that she fucked up; she needs to help her realize that she was raped.


Victim?-Blaming Cliche #3: Your judgment was “awful”; your rapist’s judgment was merely “impaired.”

You don’t say whether the guy was also drunk. If so, his judgment was also impaired.

Don’t Listen to Her: When it comes to sexual assault, Amy presents alcohol as the great equalizer. Amy notes that alcohol impairs judgment in both the rapist and the victim, but she again fails to answer the question at hand. Here it is: Being drunk can not make you less of a rapist, and being drunk can not make you less of a victim.


Victim?-Blaming Cliche #4: So, you’re wary of calling your experience “rape”? Amy is, too. How about we call it “sex” that “shouldn’t happen” instead?

No matter what—-no means no. If you say no beforehand, then the sex shouldn’t happen. If you say no while it’s happening, then the sex should stop.

Don’t Listen to Her: Our “Victim?” described a clear rape scenario, but shied away from calling it rape. This is not a-typical; victims often have a difficult time acknowledging that they are legitimately victims. Advice columnists, however, have a duty to call a rape a rape. Instead, Amy responds by describing anther clear rape scenario—-“no means no”—-and failing to call it what it is.


Calm Before the Storm: Finally, Amy calls in the experts:

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network Web site (www.rainn.org):

“Alcohol and drugs are not an excuse — or an alibi. The key question is still: Did you consent or not? Regardless of whether you were drunk or sober, if the sex is nonconsensual, it is rape. However, because each state has different definitions of “nonconsensual,” please contact your local center or local police if you have questions about this. (If you were so drunk or drugged that you passed out and were unable to consent, it was rape. Both people must be conscious and willing participants.)” Go to your college’s health department to be tested for STDs and pregnancy. See a counselor to determine how you want to approach this.

Listen to Them: I guarantee that RAINN will be a lot more helpful in this matter than this advice column.


Victim-Blaming RED ALERT:

You must involve the guy in question in order to determine what happened and because he absolutely must take responsibility and face the consequences for his actions, just as you are prepared to do. He may have done this before.

WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T LISTEN TO HER: There is a lot of bad advice in this column, but this—-this is destructive, dangerous, and negligent. Amy takes a rape victim who is incapable of admitting that she was a rape victim, and suggests that she dial up her rapist in order to “determine what happened.” He raped her after taking her into a stranger’s bed room, pretending it was his own, and repeatedly promising that he wouldn’t pursue sex. This guy is not going to help his victim figure out that he raped her! He is only going to encourage the victim to blame herself, stay anonymous, and re-frame the evening as sex. Obviously, rapists should not be consulted on questions of consent. As this column makes clear, we should all probably refrain from consulting Ask Amy, as well.

* Note: Amy Dickinson’s “Ask Amy,” a syndicated advice column out of the Chicago Tribune, is not to be confused with the “Ask Amy” advice column penned by Amy Richards, published at Feminist.com.

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